Uluru Logistics

The only toilets out at Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, are long-drops at the sunset viewing area. They stink. This is not surprising since water is in short supply.

At Uluru itself there seems to be one permanent waterhole called Mutitjulu. This is a sheltered recess in the south side of the rock and the water source is the rock itself. When it rains a significant part of the rock drains to exactly this location. Indeed, heavy rain is said to create a waterfall.

Eighteen kilometres north of Uluru is the town of Yulara. The town gets its water from an aquifer and I mention this because nearly everything else has to be brought in from elsewhere. This piqued my curiosity when I visited recently. How does a town in the middle of the desert keep itself running?

Indeed how stuff is actually organised and run is something I’ve long found interesting. I’ve never studied it formally and I doubt I ever will. But for instance, while the highlight of the festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain, is each morning’s bull run, the cleaning and hosing of the streets after the first night’s drunken partying is something to behold. The organisers know exactly what they’re doing.

In Yulara’s case, the town exists so that tourists visiting Uluru have somewhere to stay. Everything is expensive and I assume that this is because tourist money pays for it all. There are approximately 910 people working in the area and they need electricity, water, gas and food. As with any community, these things must either be produced locally or brought in.

Water, as I said above, is sourced locally. There is also a solar array spread across five different locations in and around town that produces 15% of the town’s electricity needs. The rest comes via generators. The town is too small and far from anything to be connected to a grid.

But what about other things? Food for example? The answer is that there’s no agriculture in the area so everything, as I said above, has to be brought in.

And this explains some of the expense. Twice a week there are three truckloads of goods from Adelaide, 1663km away. That’s how the town is supplied.

This in turn explains why the local IGA, the only supermarket in town, is dominated by South Australian produce. Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee can now be found in supermarkets throughout Australia but neither Perth’s nor Melbourne’s stock the “strong” variety. Likewise, soft drinks like Sno-Drop and Big Sars are South Australian peculiars but can be found at Yulara.

So does the town make money? I concluded that it must do or it wouldn’t survive. The hotel prices in town are probably kept high to ensure profitability.

And as long as Uluru remains, I expect that that will continue.

The Melancholy Roman

The GOAT question

Image from wauwatosanow.com

I remember thinking at the time of the 2012 London Olympics that there would be no fewer than four GOATs in attendance. GOAT, of course, stands for Greatest Of All Time.

For the record, the four GOATs were

All except Kanaeva were pretty well known at the time. There may have been other GOATs present from other sports that I don’t know about.

Federer left without a gold medal and never seemed bothered by this. An Olympic gold medal is not the highest possible achievement in tennis.

The women’s tennis gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics was won by Serena Williams. I really don’t remember if her GOAT status was obvious at the time. I do remember thinking in recent years that she’d never received the respect she was due but that’s another story.

As has been exceptionally well publicised, Williams was at the centre of an incident during this year’s US Open women’s final. She’d been hoping to achieve a 24th career grand slam victory, equalling Margaret Court’s record.

Instead she lost to Naomi Osaka.

Still, no one disputes Williams’ GOAT status. She plays in a different era to Court’s. Besides, she may yet win another grand slam to equal Court or two to surpass her. Then her GOAT status will be unequivocal.

Or will it?

Understand, I’m not disputing Williams’ greatness. She really is the best woman player of her era, is undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time, and got to where she is from a much tougher starting place than Roger Federer, the male GOAT.

Here’s the thing: I’m wondering about Federer as well.

Contemplating the ages and the eras of Williams and Federer, I’m struck by the fact that their careers are running very nearly in parallel. And I’m wondering if that’s really a coincidence.

Back in 2000 Pete Sampras won his thirteenth grand slam title, beating the men’s career record of 12 set by Roy Emerson in 1967. Sampras won one more in 2002, bringing him GOAT status and a career total of 14 slams.

Since then, Federer has amassed 20 grand slams. Rafael Nadal has won 17 while playing in the era of Federer. And Novak Djokovic has won 14 while playing in the era of Federer and Nadal both.

These figures, to put it mildly, are odd.

They put me in mind of other statistical oddities. I don’t know much about baseball but I do know that there is something of a mythology around batters having a season .400 average. Only twenty men ever managed it and all did so between 1876 and 1941. It is now generally accepted that changes to the game have made it impossible to reach.

Likewise, I have followed cricket long enough to know that what would be considered a normal first innings total in a test match has varied quite drastically over the past three decades. Again, changes in the sport have brought this about.

It seems evident that something has changed in tennis, too. One explanation is that racket technology has improved and the more skilful players can hit harder or more accurately than they could in the past.

Could such a small thing have given Williams, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic an edge? And could such a difference have altered outcomes of matches and careers in the past, had it been available?

Maybe there’s some way of analysing statistics to determine the answer. I don’t know. I personally suspect that Williams and Federer really are the greatest of all time but they’re not as dominant as their statistics would appear to indicate. But this opinion is based on nothing more than a hunch.

The Melancholy Roman